Stylized photo of a woman working from home
5-second summary
  • A new study from Atlassian reveals how many employees want flexible work arrangements – and how few companies are providing them. (“Great resignation,” anyone?)
  • The study also showed a dramatic drop in employees’ sense of belonging and team cohesion since last year.
  • Prioritizing values alignment in hiring and optimizing for virtual onboarding can help companies navigate today’s challenging labor market.

As leaders, we should be able to make the following statements:

  • I know who my best people are, and I have plans in place to keep them engaged while ensuring their continued growth.
  • I’m proud of how we attract, hire, and onboard people into our business. The way we operate enables them to do the best work of their lives.
  • We live our values and have a strong, adaptive culture.

Even if you could’ve agreed with all those statements before the pandemic, I’ll bet you’re far less confident about them now. The past 18 months have upended the way many people think about and carry out their professional lives. For the 88 percent of leaders who are looking to reimagine or redesign how their organization works, the challenge lies in finding solutions that suit individuals, teams, and businesses as a whole.

Our “Reworking Work” study offers some clues.

We surveyed more than 6,000 workers from a range of industries in six countries around the world to find out how they’re feeling and what they expect from the future of work. Having done the same research a year earlier, this year’s findings offer valuable insight into how attitudes have changed, as well as what’s driving the shift.

This new round of data also points to two emerging needs that aren’t yet being met.

Flexibility is a top priority

If you’ve read even a few of the stories related to the “Great Resignation,” you’ve probably picked up on a key theme: the mismatch between what employees want and what employers are providing. Some of it is about wages. But for knowledge workers, it’s mostly about working conditions. And we’re not talking about the quality of snacks in the office kitchen. It’s got to do with the flexibility to work from home (and grab snacks from their own kitchens).

The bottom line is that flexibility is basically table stakes if you want to hang on to your best people and keep attracting top talent. Nearly three in four respondents (74 percent) told us they want to keep the flexible working arrangements they’ve come to enjoy. This echoes research Atlassian conducted in partnership with PwC Australia earlier this year, which found that over 40 percent of knowledge workers in the U.S. and Australia are willing to switch employers if it means they’ll have the option to work from home.

And yet, 60 percent of participants in our Reworking Work study said their employer is calling all the shots in terms of where work gets done. If people keep leaving their jobs for greener pastures over the next year, the other 40 percent of employers will have a giant head start in recruiting them.

Charts showing that 74% of people want flexible work arrangements, while only 40% actually have that.
How to debug distributed teamwork, as suggested by new research

In fact, the savviest companies are already using this trend to their advantage. They’re offering some degree of flexibility to employees from day one. Not flexibility that’s restricted to certain levels of seniority or tenure, nor at your manager’s discretion. Just the option to work from the office or from home, or some combination of both. As the CEO of IBM recently mused, “Why should I, as an employer, care as long as you can get the work done and you’re highly productive? I should not try to be overly dictatorial about that.”

Hire employees who share your values

We also have to understand that, as leaders, our actions are being watched more closely. Forty-nine percent of U.S. employees would quit their jobs if it became clear their employer’s values did not align with their own. And in the current labor market, employees have the upper hand. Full stop.

The upshot is that taking values alignment into consideration during the hiring process is a must. How can you lead teams through major changes like digital transformation or a pivot in company strategy without triggering a wave of attrition? By building teams who share the same fundamental attitudes about work. How do you know you’re building the most effective teams regardless of members’ backgrounds, location, or personality? Again: shared values.

That’s why a values interview is one of the most important elements of our hiring process at Atlassian. These interviews involve a set of structured behavioral questions designed to assess how a candidate’s mindset aligns with our five core values. And the person conducting the interview usually comes from outside the department doing the hiring. That’s on purpose. The more we can make the values interview about the candidate’s mindset (and less about their skillset), the better.

Atlassian’s five company values

If you’re interested in a deeper dive into our process, along with tips for adopting this practice, grab our values interviewing guide and share it around your organization.

Culture fit vs. values alignment

Despite our best intentions, interviewing for “culture fit” usually amounts to little more than assessing whether you’d want to grab a pint with the candidate after work. Guess what else tends to happen? According to a growing body of research, companies tend to hire people who look, act, and think just like the people interviewing them. We’ve found that focusing on values alignment helps us bring in people with different perspectives and diverse backgrounds, but who also share our core beliefs about how to approach work and how to be a great teammate.

Optimize your onboarding process for remote workers

Our research found that only 54 percent of employees feel a sense of belonging at work, down a whopping nine points from last year. Similarly, those feeling a sense of unity and cohesion across their team fell seven points to 59 percent as employers struggle to maintain a vibrant company culture while working away from the office.

Keep in mind that these numbers include both new and long-serving employees. If we looked at just newer employees, who’ve been working apart from their teams for most or all of their tenure, we’d likely see an even bleaker picture.

As such, leveling up your onboarding game is critical, especially in cases where teams are in remote-only or hybrid mode.

Atlassian has learned this first-hand. As incredible as it sounds, half of our 7,000+ employees joined the company during the pandemic. That means over 3500 Atlassians have never been into one of our corporate offices or met their teams face to face. So we adapted our processes with distributed teams in mind by developing a remote onboarding program that’s optimized for remote workers.

The program includes all the administrative pieces you’d expect (benefits enrollment, systems access, etc.). Where it diverges from our old ways, however, is the belonging piece. We’ve found that investing more time in building personal connections and understanding our culture pays massive dividends in team cohesion and performance.

But we know that onboarding is about more than just Day 1. We want to set our new employees up for long-term success, so we’ve developed a new 90-day plan that replaces the team lunch with 1-on-1 virtual sessions with each teammate, and even peripheral colleagues, where they can get acquainted and talk about how their roles will intersect. We make sure new hires are introduced to all the Slack channels they’ll need for day-to-day work, as well as the “birds of a feather” channels where they can find other Atlassians who share their hobbies and interests.

Note that planning isn’t the same as doing. (Exhibit A: I have an exercise bike with more dust than miles on it.) So our plan includes milestones for the 30-, 60-, and 90-day marks. The first 30 days are about getting comfortable and seeing how things work. By day 60, they’re in full execution mode. And after 90 days, we ensure new hires understand team- and company-level goals, and how they’ll contribute to them.

You can read more about virtual onboarding here, as well as access our 90-day plan template for Trello or Confluence.

Try, learn, adapt, repeat

Our definitive, road-tested virtual onboarding checklist

Despite the obvious difficulties of distributed work, most people value flexibility so much that they’re committed to working through the challenges. As leaders, our job is to evolve how we work so we can ensure an engaged workforce and an adaptable, sustainable business.

Enabling distributed teams is about embracing mass personalization and letting people step up to take control of their workweek. It’s also about keeping our promises, because talking about flexibility but then putting policies in place to restrict it does more harm than good.

And if it seems like Atlassian has all this down to a science, well, we don’t. But we’re committed to developing practices and experiences that unleash our teams’ potential through a continuous cycle of experimenting and adapting. We’re also committed to sharing what we’ve learned so other companies have a leg up on unleashing their potential. I encourage leaders everywhere to take full advantage of the resources provided here.

We’ve all survived the past 18 months but it’s time to set our sights higher than that. Nobody has all the answers, so let’s experiment with new ways of working and coach our teams through these changing times. This means less emphasis on managing tasks and more on managing people. Less talking and more listening. Maintaining a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

Organizations that set up teams and individuals for success in the new world of distributed work are most likely to succeed. If we help them thrive, the whole organization will thrive, too.

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